Not too long ago, I was desperately writing emails to design studios for an internship. Fast forward eight years, I am grateful enough to receive emails asking me for an internship. I wish someone had told me how to approach studios when I was starting out and this is an attempt to do just the same.
You are not only being judged on your portfolio
You’re going to get one email to apply and make an impression, so might as well make it the best one.
Here is an email template that outlines all the ‘good to haves’:
Hope this email reaches you well. I am _____ from_____. I am writing to apply for an (graphic design) internship at your organisation/studio for the month of _______.
My interests lie in ___________(branding/photography/typography etc) and you can view my portfolio ________ (link to work) I have been following your work and I feel like I would like to learn _______ (mention specifics of what your expectations are) from you.
Looking forward to hearing a positive response from you!
Tip: Tailor your email to the recipient, do not copy paste mass emails and definitely don’t cc other studios.
No attachments please.
People often check mails on their phones and attachments are bulky. Links are great; if you don’t have a website, draft a pdf of 4–5 projects that show a range of all your skills and link to a google drive/dropbox.
A lot of bigger corporations require CV’s, make it crisp and short. A great guide to CV writing is available here. Also, the best advice I got from a senior- lose the software skill bars, they don’t mean anything.
Tip: Link words and avoid long urls
The dreaded waiting period
Most studios don’t reply. Maybe they want to, but getting back to 50 emails can become a waste of time.
7–10 days is standard for any studio to reply. When planning where you would ideally like to work, make 2 lists- One with your top five and the other that serves as Plan B.
Sending multiple emails or calling (or even dropping by unannounced) is not encouraged. Wait for two weeks at the latest, feel sad for a minute and then move on to the rest of that list. Keep an eye out for calls from and write again.
Ask and you shall receive (in most cases)
While your primary goal in an internship should be receiving mentorship and learning the ropes of how a creative business works in real time, working for free is only for the privileged. Mentorship shouldn’t come at the expense of exploitation and wellbeing.
An industry standard should be paid and if not offered, you should bring it up politely in your email. If not provided, move on. NGOs and volunteer work is different and should be looked at on a case to case basis.
Apart from the stipend, things you might want to ask before are-
1. What will be your work hours and will you be required to travel to work/move to a different city?
2. What will the studio’s expectations from you be- creatively and otherwise?
3. How long is the internship for?
Who can apply?
Most studios look for third year and above students to apply. Portfolios over degrees. Create a concise portfolio and pay attention to explaining your process and presentation along with the selection of projects. Less is more.
Internships are also most likely to be full time unless stated otherwise, this is because a lot of guidance goes into your internship and 4 hours is not going to be beneficial for you or your employer. Internships are not freelance projects, they’re learning opportunities.
From the Intern’s mouth
We asked 5 of our interns (past and present) some questions to help us understand the anxieties of applying to a new place and how studios can help make things smoother for newer graduates without compromising on their own work cultures:
1. Was there anything you would have liked to know before applying for an internship?
Ayesha, Joey, Maanasa, & Tejaswini: The kind of projects we would be required to work on and what software skills would be required were the top answers.
Kaashvi: The work culture, what the team is like and the stipend. Would also like to know the hours of work and if I would be required to work overtime
2. What has been the most frustrating part of applying for an internship that you and your peers faced?
Ayesha: Underpaid or unpaid internships have been the most frustrating experiences. A stipend to cover basic travelling expenses should be the minimum
Kaashvi, Maanasa & Tejaswini: Being ghosted by the places you are applying to and having no response to the mails was frustrating. While we understand it’s difficult to respond to each mail, an update on social media/website also helps us decide that we can move forward.
Joey: Asking for an assignment before the internship begins, portfolios should be enough to judge the talent
3. What are your expectations from an internship of 2 months? Do you prefer longer internships over shorter ones?
Ayesha, Joey & Tejaswini: Mentorship and learning the basics of how the industry works is the biggest expectation. Would love to observe various steps involved in a project (eg: ideation, feedback, implementation etc). In longer internships, we would love to see a project from start to end and also be responsible for a lot more. Learning how to price work is also a bonus.
Maanasa & Kaashvi: We prefer shorter internships with option of extensions. This offers flexibility to make sure both the parties are on the same wavelength. Ideally we would love to have a project for my portfolio and work on a variety of real time projects and form a genuine relationship with a mentor.